The shopping scene wherever you go in Southeast Asia reflects both old and new ways: cities like Jakarta and Bangkok are full of hyper-modern shopping malls, but also have a significant number of markets where you can buy souvenirs, local crafts, and fabrics at low prices.
The places listed here reflect the latter: marketplaces where you can buy goods in the old way, looking through the merchandise and bargaining for lower prices, giving you a more authentic and way cheaper shopping experience in the process. Go to these markets and shop, and soon you'll discover that the only thing better than visiting a city in Southeast Asia is leaving for home with a piece of it in your luggage.
Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam
When the Vietnamese Emperor Ly Thai To established Hanoi as his capital in 1010 AD, the craftsmen who served the Emperor relocated their shops to the city, establishing the basis of what we call the Old Quarter today: an intricate warren of streets laid out in a grid, selling everything from silks to propaganda posters to electronics to toys.
Because each guild concentrated their business along an individual street, the streets’ names today reflect the business of the guilds that used to live there, from Hang Bac (Silver Street) to Hang Nam (Gravestone Street) to Hang Gai (silk and paintings). The streets today are dominated by modern restaurants, hotels, bazaars, and specialty shops. For a list of accommodations in the area, read this list of Old Quarter hotels.
Jalan Surabaya, Jakarta, Indonesia
The modern city of Jakarta has its interesting corners, one of which is tucked into the quiet residential district of Menteng (where President Obama lived as a child). The Jalan Surabaya antique market encompasses about 180 stalls in a 500-yard line on one side of the street; walk through the stores and you'll see antiques, batik, old coins, porcelain, vinyl LPs, and more.
There's an interesting mix of Javanese, Balinese, and Dutch artifacts, but you'll need to sharpen your haggling skills before you get your money's worth "antiquing" along Jalan Surabaya. You'll also need a lot of patience and time to sift through the staggering volume of antiques available here, so try arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon to make the most out of the limited time you have.
For this Indonesian antiquing experience in pictures, check out this image gallery of Jalan Surabaya. For a number of hotels nearby, look through these lists of Budget Hotels in Jakarta and Hotels & Serviced Apartments in Central Jakarta.
Ubud Art Market, Bali, Indonesia
The laid-back town of Ubud in Bali has a surprisingly vibrant shopping scene of its own - it starts at the sprawling Pasar Ubud at Ubud's town center, then radiates away via the shops along Jalan Monkey Forest and neighboring streets.
The western section of Pasar Ubud is called the "art market": its two levels of stalls sell paintings, picture frames, clothes, fragrances, leatherwork, and souvenirs. The wares in Pasar Ubud are crafted by the latest generation of royal craftsmen, who belong to families of craftsmen who have sold their products to Pasar Ubud for hundreds of years.
If you want to cast your nets wider, drive out of Ubud to visit the nearby craftsmen's villages that specialize in jewelry, sculpture and textiles. Though their handiwork is easily available in any posh shop down in South Bali, a visit to these villages allows you the rare chance to buy fine jewelry or wood carvings at wholesale prices.
Markets in Bangkok, Thailand
While Bangkok has its share of modern shopping malls, most of the best shopping in the city is still done in the markets, where you can get lost in the endless lines of stalls selling everything from furniture to hardware to Buddhist art to antiques... and let's not forget the endless assortment of cheap, mass-manufactured souvenirs!
Time your visit just right and you might make it to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, 25 acres of Thai silks, clothing, books, and more. The Suan Lum Night Market is another great market shopping site, with plenty of home décor, shoes, clothing, and souvenirs on offer. Sampaeng Lane is a cramped market selling jewelry, plasticware, and fabric, with some amazing finds if you look hard enough.
To get a head start on retail therapy in Thailand's capital (and to read about other shopping sites in the city), read this Bangkok Shopping Guide.
Jalan Malioboro, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
When in Yogyakarta, make a stop at Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Street) for souvenirs and cheap wares - the street is lined with stalls selling silver, batik, and inexpensive souvenirs. The Pasar Beringharjo market is your sure stop for batik and clothing; guests with an appetite for haggling will get the best deal out of their shopping in the area.
Jalan Malioboro is quite close to the Kraton, and is populated with historic buildings of its own, including the old Dutch Fort Vredenburg, the Central Post Office, the State Guest House, and Yogyakarta's oldest hotel, all relics of the Dutch occupation. If you want to do your shopping in a modern setting, the Mall Malioboro presents your best escape route.
For more about Jalan Malioboro and other attractions nearby, read this article on top things to do in Yogyakarta. Don't miss this tour of the Yogyakarta Kraton, and look up the museums and attractions near the Kraton.